Shortstop Dixon Machado has been on the cusp of the major leagues for several seasons now. He has already appeared in 32 games for the Detroit Tigers, and is out of minor league options. As such, decision time has arrived for the organization. That decision, as it always does where Machado is concerned, will revolve around his bat.
While Machado has pretty good speed on the basepaths, it’s his defense that consistently draws high grades and occasionally exuberant reviews. John Sickels of Minor League Ball gives Machado plus marks in every part of his defensive toolkit, saying that “he draws raves for shortstop defense, with arm, hands, range, reliability all better than average.”
That reliability is a key feature, as is the arm strength. Machado has the arm to play third base with ease. As such, he will make a fine utility infielder should the Tigers choose to hang onto him. And while Iglesias is at least Machado’s equal (and likely better) in terms of his range, hands and actions around second base, Machado already has the defensive maturity that Iglesias has only recently begun to demonstrate.
James Chipman, writing for the Detroit News, described Machado’s defense in superlatives as far back as 2015.
Machado is a near plus-plus defender currently, with easy plus-plus potential moving forward. He has great reactions off the bat, thanks to a quick first step and impressive instincts. Machado handles routine plays almost effortlessly with ease. Extremely difficult highlight-reel plays are fairly common from the gifted defender.
Mark Anderson of TigsTown settles for giving Machado plus grades this offseason.
A well-known prospect in Tigers circles, Machado has long drawn considerable praise for his plus glove and double-plus arm that allow him to be an effective and exciting defender at shortstop.
However you want to slice it, there is general consensus that Machado should be one of the better shortstops in the league if his time every comes. The defense is unquestionably first-rate. The issue is whether his bat will ever allow for regular playing time at the major league level.
Machado makes a lot of contact at the plate, and has developed his pitch recognition in recent years. He put up a walk rate close to 12 percent with the Toledo Mud Hens in 2016. He has a simple, compact stroke, and his hands help him square up a lot of balls. Unfortunately, his slight frame just doesn’t produce much pop. As a result, questions have always lingered as to his ability to generate enough bat speed to handle major league pitching.
John Sickels sounds a note of optimism.
[Machado is a]contact hitter with a decent eye, lacks distance power; some players with this profile show unexpected offensive growth in their late 20s and that may happen here
Machado has appeared physically stronger in recent seasons, and Mark Anderson of TigsTown sees some evidence of it in his quality of contact.
Machado had gotten stronger throughout his career, augmenting his excellent approach at the plate with a developing ability to hit the ball harder to all fields. At his best, Machado works counts, makes contact, and has the above-average speed to make things happen on the bases. At his worst, he is overpowered by advanced arms and lacks the offensive tools to carry him at the big league level.
However, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs believes that major league pitching may expose Machado badly.
...lacks the physicality to compete with the bat in the majors. His approach is very simplistic, he tracks well and identifies balls and strikes early in flight, but has poor strength and bat speed, leading to weak contact on the ground.
The standard for Machado as a hitter is Iglesias, so the bar isn’t set all that high. While Iglesias has more power — though it manifests exclusively against lefthanders — he has proven the ability to hit for high average and produce league average numbers in the majors. Machado, in theory, should walk substantially more in the major leagues, but he has yet to prove that. There are also questions as to whether he has the strength to consistently produce quality contact against the best pitchers in the game. With no power to speak of in his profile, his potential remains very limited.
Projected 2017 team: Detroit Tigers
Barring a trade, Machado should make the Tigers’ 25-man roster as a utility infielder. The Tigers typically carry two anyway. While Andrew Romine is versatile, he would be somewhat of a liability playing shortstop should Iglesias be injured for an extended period of time. Machado gives the Tigers outstanding defense and solid insurance at a crucial position. If that opportunity arises, Machado will finally get enough playing time to see what he can do as an everyday shortstop in the major leagues. Were he to flourish, his stock could rise as a trade chip. But more likely, considering Iglesias will hit free agency after the 2018 season, a solid performance could convince the Tigers that the time has come to deal Iglesias, and make Machado the shortstop of the future.